On Sunday, October 8, 2017, a series of deadly wildfires sparked in Northern California’s Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino counties. For nearly two weeks, the fires raged on, filling the air across the Bay Area with smoke. The fires caused more than $3 billion in damage and burned nearly 200,000 acres (about 5 percent of the 3.7 million acres in the three counties). By the time the flames were extinguished, 42 people had been killed, and thousands had lost their homes.
Despite these terrifying figures, most of Northern California's wine country was unscathed. Only a few businesses suffered significant damage and most vineyards were untouched—in fact, the vines actually stopped the flames. Though many travelers feared that wine country would be destroyed, most of the damage was to residential areas. And now, as locals struggle to rebuild their lives, many worry about how a lack of tourists will affect recovery.
As residents plea for tourists to return, potential visitors may wonder about the state of the area. The good news: it’s as beautiful as ever and open for business. Here’s what visitors need to know.
What’s Open: Just About Everything
Of the nearly 500 wineries in Sonoma County, only one—Paradise Ridge—was destroyed by the flames. A few more were damaged, but all of the partially damaged wineries have reopened.
In Santa Rosa, one of the hardest hit cities, two hotels—the luxury Fountaingrove Inn and the 250-room Hilton Sonoma Wine Country hotel—burned down. A few others temporarily shuttered, but have since reopened. However, many hotels, wineries, and restaurants have reported lower-than-usual visitor numbers, especially during what’s normally a busy time.
For visitors, a slower fall season means a more intimate experience in wine country. Right now, it’s easier to score a hard-to-get reservation at a top restaurant, there’s less traffic on area roads, and visitors receive more personalized attention at usually-packed tasting rooms. Additionally, great deals and discounts abound. For example, the romantic Kenwood Inn and Spa is offering a second night half off for select dates through February.
Other business are tying their deals to fire relief. Forestville’s Farmhouse Inn, which consistently tops lists of the best hotels in the world, is offering every third night free through March 31, 2018. The inn is also offering a Rise Up Sonoma deal, which includes a $50 breakfast credit, customized tasting itinerary with three winery partners extending complimentary tasting fees, a welcome amenity, and the donation of 10 percent of the package cost to Redwood Credit Union North Bay Fire Relief.
In Santa Rosa, the Vintner's Inn is offering a similar Rise Up Sonoma package through December 31, 2017, donating 10 percent of room revenue to fire relief. The package for two includes a $50 certificate for John Ash & Co. restaurant and a VIP tour and tasting at Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery.
And in Healdsburg, the Hotel Les Mars is rewarding guests who donate to recovery efforts. Guests who book two nights for a stay before December 31st, 2018, and donate $100 or more towards local fire relief, will receive a $100 Gift Certificate towards dinner in Chalkboard, the hotel’s restaurant.
Recovery is Ongoing
While nearly all businesses have reopened, Sonoma still bears the scars of the horrific fires, and it will for some time to come. Several communities in Santa Rosa were devastated, and thousand of people are still mourning the losses they suffered. Singed hillsides are visual reminders of the tragedy—as are signs thanking the first responders for their heroic efforts.
In November, several concerts, including For the Love of Sonoma and The Band Together Bay Area Benefit Concert raised more than $20 million dollars for affected communities. And, on November 21, chef Tyler Florence and Visit California hosted The Grateful Table, a $500 per seat fundraising dinner, held in a vineyard on the Napa-Sonoma county line, that donated all proceeds to fire relief. Still, it will be a long time before the community is fully back on its feet.
How You Can Help
In October and November, many wineries, hotels, and restaurants donated large portions of their revenue to fire relief, and several, such as the hotels noted above, continue to do so, and you can help by patronizing these businesses.
You can also donate to organizations such as Redwood Credit Union North Bay Fire Relief Fund, Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation, and Sonoma County Community Foundation Resilience Fund. Benovia Winery is matching up to $100,000 of donations given by Benovia wine club members and fans to these organizations. And, through December, the winery will also waive tasting fees for guests and will donate $50 to relief efforts for each appointment made at the winery.
The best thing wine lovers can do to help is to visit and support local businesses, especially during the upcoming winter months. You can also buy wine direct from local wineries. As the holidays approach, many wineries offer special package deals, and waive shipping costs, so there’s no better time to support your favorite wineries and raise a glass to Sonoma’s recovery.